Playing Space Invaders with Real Fire and Lasers

Making a Space Invaders game is up there on the list of most unconventional things you could do with a laser cutter. In watching the tiny little ships burst into flames, [Martin Raynsford’s] modification has got to be one of the more dangerous looking ones we’ve seen as well.

[Martin] always had the desire to make a tangible version of the classic game. Since his Whitetooth A1 laser cutter already contained the bulk of the moving hardware needed, not to mention an actual high powered laser to “pew pew” with, he decided it was the perfect starting point for such a project. The game is played looking down into the cutter since the laser of course fires in that direction, however a basic webcam is mounted to the laser assembly so that you can view the game on a computer screen at the proper perspective. An Arduino Mini is responsible for stepper control, allowing the player to jog back and forth and fire with a keyboard. [Martin] added an extra gear to the z-axis bed-leveler so that it could drive rows of paper invaders left and right across the bottom. Paperclips wedged into slots along a modified backboard hold each of the paper slips in place. This works ideally since they can be reloaded easily and won’t be maimed during use.

Due to the heat of the laser, landing a well positioned shot will likely nuke all of the nearby invaders as well, making for a theatrical inferno and easy win. Now to step up the difficulty level and figure out how to make them fire back…

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Control Stuff With Your Muscles

[David Nghiem] has been working with circuitry designed to read signals from muscles for many years. After some bad luck with a start-up company, he didn’t give up and kept researching his idea. He has decided to share his innovations with the hacker community in the form of a wearable suit that reads muscle signals.

It turns out that when you flex a muscle, it gives off a signal called a Surface ElectroMyographic signal, or SEMG for short. [David] is using an Arduino, digital potentiometer and a bunch of op amps to read the SEMG signals. LEDs are used to display the signal levels.

The history behind [David’s] project dates back to the late twentieth century, which he eloquently points out – “Holy crap that was a long time ago”. He worked with the MIT Aero Astro Lab and the Boston University Neuromuscular Research Center where he worked on a robotic arm for astronauts. The idea being to apply an opposing force to the arm to help prevent muscle deterioration.

Be sure to check out [David’s] extensive and well documented work, along with the several videos showing his projects at various stages of completion. If this gives you the electromyography bug, check out this guide on detecting the signals and an application of the concept for robotic prosthesis.

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Enigma Machine Wristwatch

We don’t find smartwatches to be supremely usable yet. This one sets a definition for usefulness. The Enigma machine is of course the cipher process used by the Germans during World War II. This Enigma Machine wristwatch is not only functional, but the appearance is modelled after that of the original machine. With the speckled gray/black case and the Enigma badge branding [Asciimation] has done a fine job of mimicking the original feel.

Driving the machine is an Arduino Pro Mini. We’ve seen Arduino Enigma Machines in the past so it’s not surprising to see it again here. The user interface consists of an OLED display at 128×64 resolution, three buttons, with a charging port to the right and on/off switch on the left.

The device is demonstrated after the break. Quite a bit of button presses are used to set up each of the three encoder wheels. But that’s hardly avoidable when you’re not committing to a full keyboard. We’re pretty impressed by the functionality of [Asciimation’s] interface considering it’s hardware simplicity.

This seems perfect for kids that are proving to have an interest in engineering. They learn about ciphers, embedded programming, and mechanical design and crafting (this is a hand-sewn leather wristband). Of course if you build one and start wearing it into the office we won’t judge.

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Take a Spin on this Voice-Controlled 3D Scanning Rig

[Aldric Negrier] wanted to make 3D-scanning a person streamlined and simple. To that end, he created this voice-controlled 3D-scanning rig.

[Aldric] used a variety of hacking skills to make this project, and his thorough Instructable illustrates this nicely. Everything from CNC milling to Arduino programming to 3D-printing was incorporated into the making of this rig. Plywood was used to construct the base and the large toothed gear. A 12″ Lazy Susan bearing was attached to this gear to allow smooth rotation. In order to automate the rig, a 12V DC geared motor was attached to a smaller 3D-printed gear and positioned on the base. When the motor is on, the smaller gear’s teeth take the larger gear for a spin. He used a custom dual H-bridge motor driver made by a friend, which is connected to an Arduino Nano. The Nano is also connected to a Bluetooth module and an ultrasonic range finder. When an object within 1-35cm is detected on the rig for 3 seconds, the motor starts to spin, stopping when the object is no longer detected. A typical scan takes about 60 seconds.

This alone would have been a great project, but [Aldric] did not stop there. He wanted to be able to step on the rig and issue commands while being scanned. It makes sense if you want to scan yourself – get on the rig, assume the desired position, and then initiate the scan. He used the Windows speech recognition SDK to develop an application that issues commands via Bluetooth to Skanect, a 3D-scanning software. The commands are as simple as saying “Start Skanect.” You can also tell the motor to switch on or off and change its speed or direction without breaking form. [Aldric] used an Asus Xtion for a 3D-scanner, but a Kinect will also work. Afterwards, he smoothed his scans using MeshMixer, a program featured in previous hacks.

Check out the videos of the rig after the break. Voice commands are difficult to hear due to the background music in one of the videos, but if you listen carefully, you can hear them. You can also see more of [Aldric’s] projects here or on this YouTube channel.

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SXSW Create: Sparkfun Gives Kids Awesome Badges to Hack

By far the most desirable booth for the crowds at SXSW Create was the Sparkfun quadrant. We call it a quadrant because they had a huge footprint approaching 1/4 the tented area, but it was well used. They brought a number of staff down to Austin in order to give away a legit electronic badge project they call BadgerHack.

sxsw-sparkfun-badgerhack-kit-thumbWe love badge hacking. LOVE IT! But South-by isn’t purely a hardware conference so the badges aren’t made of PCBs (for shame). Add to that, free entry to Create scores you a wristband but no badge.

This is the answer to that, a badge giveaway and build-off aimed at kids but cool enough to make me feel only slightly awful for accepting one when I pretty much knew they were going to run out before the final day was done.

The USB stick PCB is, as you guessed it, an Arduino compatible loaded up with an FTDI chip and an ATmega328p which they call the BadgerStick. Accompanying this is a multiplexed 8×7 LED matrix board. Solder the three pin headers and the battery holder leads, connect to the plastic badge using the supplied double-stick tape, and you have a badge that scrolls a message in LEDs.

DSC_0508What an awesome giveaway. I really like it that they didn’t cut corners here. First off, the kids will value the badge much more because they had to actually assemble it rather than just being handed a finished widget. Secondly, there is the USB to serial chip and USB footprint that means they can reprogram it without any extra equipment. And an LED matrix… come on that’s just a gateway drug to learning Wiring. Bravo Sparkfun and Atmel for going this route with your marketing bucks.

The badge activity rounded out with some hardware interfacing. There’s a 3-pin socket that attendees could plug into 4 different stations around the booth. Once done they received a coupon code for Sparkfun that scrolls whenever the badge is booted up. For some at-home fun, the writeup (linked at the top) for the BadgerHack firmware is quite good. It offers advice on changing what is displayed on the badge and outlines how to build a game of Breakout with just a bit of added hardware.

A Motor, an Arduino and a Whole Bunch of Laser Cutting

[Guido] was recently commissioned to build a kinetic sculpture for a client who wanted something unique. What he came up with is really awesome.

It’s called ORBIS: The Wooden Kinetic & Lighting Sculpture. It mounts to the wall and provides a focal point for the room – a bright flashy spinning one at that! Does it just stay there and do random things? Nope, of course not! [Guido] built it with a unique control box, two Arduino 2560’s and an Xbee to communicate between them.

Orbit Kinetic Sculpture

He was told to design it using old and new technologies so he’s got a rotary phone dial on the side of the box which allows the user to change through the different modes.

Switches on top also let you change the color of the sculpture and the speed at which it moves around. Since it’s wireless it can be easily set on the coffee table and become an instant conversation starter.

See it in action after the break.

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IoT Chameleon Lamp Does It with Python

If this Internet of Things thing is gonna leave the launchpad, it will need the help of practical and semi-practical project ideas for smartifying everyday items. Part of getting those projects off the ground is overcoming the language barrier between humans that want to easily prototype complex ideas and hardware that wants specific instructions. A company called Things on Internet [TOI] has created a system called VIPER to easily program any Spark Core, UDOO or Arduino Due with Python by creating a virtual machine on the board.

The suite includes a shield, an IDE, and the app. By modifying a simple goose neck IKEA lamp, [TOI] demonstrates VIPER (Viper Is Python Embedded in Realtime). They opened the lamp and added an 24-LED Adafruit NeoPixel ring, which can be controlled remotely by smartphone using the VIPER app. To demonstrate the capacitive sensing capabilities of the VIPER shield, they lined the head of the lamp with foil. This code example will change the NeoPixels to a random color each time the button is pressed in the app.

Check out the lamp demonstration after the break and stay for the RC car.

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